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Government should release the business case for all projects in its multi-billion-dollar dam construction program

The Nature Conservation Council calls on the NSW Government to release all business-case reports relating to major projects in its multi-billion-dollar dam-building program, following the release of a highly critical NSW Parliamentary report yesterday. [1] 

A Legislative Council committee report, titled the Rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW, identifies significant flaws in one of the state’s most expensive and environmentally consequential infrastructure programs. 

The committee concluded many of the projects have been pushed forward without due consideration of the full financial and ecological costs and benefits.  

“It is clear from this report that the financial and ecological risks associated with these projects is very high yet there has been very little transparency in terms of how these projects were identified and assessed,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“Before these projects progress any further, the government should release the business-case reports for each of them, so the public understands the financial and ecological costs and benefits. 

“Based on the expert testimony to the parliamentary inquiry, most of these projects will further degrade river ecosystems without delivering promised social and economic benefits. 

“The government’s thinking about water and river management is stuck in the 20th century. More dams will not make it rain, they will just put more strain on our already over-stressed river systems.” 

The inquiry has examined six projects. Part 1 of the report, table in March, examined the massive Wyangala Dam expansion project. Part 2, which was published yesterday, examines the Mole River project, Dungowan Dam project, Macquarie River re-regulating storage project, Menindee Lakes Water Savings project and the Western Weirs project. 

The committee concluded: 

It is clear that there is a need to ensure water security in inland NSW in a way that both lets communities prosper and rivers stay healthy.  

However, this inquiry demonstrated that there is a great danger that the government's projects will achieve neither of these objectives. 

The committee heard convincing evidence about the significant ecological impacts of a number of these projects.  

“Based on the findings of this report, the way these water infrastructure projects have been identified, approved and fast-tracked through the planning system leaves a lot to be desired,” Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian said.  

“The report also found the concerns of Traditional Owners were often barely considered during consultation processes, and when they were those concerns had little bearing on the outcome. 

“The rivers, wetlands and floodplains of NSW are dying because we continue to let irrigators take too much water out of the system and because we continue to fail to tackle climate change. 

“Dams are not the answer­ ­­— they are part of the problem.”   

References 

[1] Rationale for, and impacts of, new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW, Part 2, July 2021 

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